Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli is a life-long United Methodist who is passionate about sharing the good news of God’s liberating love in Jesus Christ.
In 2014, she became the first woman to serve as Senior Pastor of historic Foundry UMC in Washington, DC. Since Ginger’s appointment, Foundry has re-energized its work for racial justice, become a founding member of the Sanctuary DMV movement, and created a Sacred Resistance Ministry Team to mobilize consistent action in response to troubling current events.
A graduate of Yale Divinity School, Ginger has served a variety of congregations: small and large, urban and suburban in the Baltimore Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church, in addition to an uptown Manhattan and two-point charge in the New York Annual Conference. Ginger has served the Baltimore Washington Conference as Chair of the Board of Discipleship and currently serves on the Board of Ordained Ministry. In addition, she has served as an elected delegate to the 2016 General Conference and the 2019 Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church.
For over 20 years as a pastor-theologian, her ministry has encouraged spiritual growth and engaged discipleship—emphasizing radical hospitality, shared ministry, spiritual practices, and solidarity with the poor and oppressed. With this focus, she has brought depth, health, and growth to every community she has served. Ginger contributed to and served as a general editor for The CEB Women’s Bible (Abingdon, October 2016). Her book, Sacred Resistance: A Practical Guide to Christian Witness and Dissent, was released in May 2018. Ginger is a sought-after preacher, teacher, and facilitator at local, regional, and international events.
She enjoys gardening, yoga, poetry, art, ice cream, travel, hiking, and is married to Dr. Anthony T. Gaines Cirelli, a Catholic theologian, currently serving the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as a Director in their Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs office. The Gaines-Cirellis live in Washington, DC with their Persian cat Annie Rose & Clumber Spaniels Harvey and Daisy.
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How should persons of faith respond when government officials and political leaders behave in ways that contradict values long espoused by Christian tradition? How should churches respond? Sacred Resistance: A Practical Guide to Christian Witness and Dissent provides thoughtful guidance for those pondering their answers to those questions.
If Not Now…When?
A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, October 4, 2020, “Fearless Generosity: For Such A Time As This” series.
Text: Matthew 21:33-46
Things are messy and confusing and disappointing and sad and violent and don’t seem to make much sense… That goes for the current state of our nation as well as for the parable in today’s Gospel. I won’t elaborate on the increasingly weird, horrifying, and unsettling moment we’re living right now. But let me give some context for our scripture passage.
Jesus has taken his donkey ride into Jerusalem with palms and shouts, has made a scene in the temple over an unjust economic system infecting the holy places, has brought healing to those who came to him in need and, as he settles in to teach in the temple, is challenged by some of the power brokers of the day—in particular the temple leadership—who are charged to care for the community. Jesus’s response to their challenge was pretty pointed as recorded through the lens of the author of Matthew, inviting centuries of interpretation that’s missed the deeper wisdom in the text and made Jews the villains. I’ll pause just long enough to remind us all that Jesus was a brown-skinned middle eastern Jew himself. So let’s just be clear that the critique is not directed toward a particular group, religion, race, or culture.
Jesus’s critique in this allegorical parable is directed at those who are given stewardship of what God has created and have failed. Instead of being faithful and generous stewards, they have instead taken what is not theirs, done violence to God’s servants and prophets, and sought to rob God’s child (or children) not only of their inheritance but of their lives.
Whether we imagine that the “vineyard” is the world, a nation, or a particular community, what God has created is meant to produce good fruit—the fruit of the Kin-dom. Things like love, peace, patience, joy, kindness, goodness, gentleness, generosity, self-control (Gal 5:22-23)…justice, hospitality, kinship. The vision for Israel and later for the followers of the Way of Jesus is a vision of communion with God and one another that produces these things, a way of life that can be practiced, modeled, and shared as a witness for others for how life can be. It is a way of life that doesn’t hoard the good gifts of creation or of Spirit, but rather labors to assure that all have what they need, that doesn’t do harm or kill one another, but rather receives each person as a unique, beloved child of God of inherent dignity and worth, that strives for peace with justice in society and intentional communities of love, friendship, and service.
In many ways, we are all given stewardship of God’s vision. What kind of stewardship is it when hatred and violence is done in the name of Jesus? What kind of stewardship of God’s vision of communion is it when whole communities in a society are disenfranchised, ignored, suppressed, and counted as expendable? When beloved children of God are unwelcome in churches because of whom they love or how they dress or what they have or how they act? What kind of stewardship of God’s vision is it when people who call themselves followers of God or of Jesus are unwilling to name racism as sin, or to experience even an ounce of inconvenience—like wearing a mask—when others’ lives are at risk? What about If we say we are people of faith, or followers of Jesus, then our words and actions, priorities and stances make a difference.
All of us, individually and as a community, need to receive the teaching from our text today with both humility and hope. With humility because we know how easy it is to always see ourselves as the “good character” in the parable. But, Lord have mercy, if we’re honest we know that we both have and will again miss the mark on everything but hypocrisy. We can receive the teaching with hope because at the heart of it all is Jesus who—even when his closest followers messed up—was gracious and merciful, extending the chance to try again. I urge you to notice that it is not Jesus who suggests “putting those wretches to a miserable death” but rather those to whom Jesus was speaking. In a time when it may seem that those bent on propping up white supremacy, cultivating greed, and sowing division are winning the day—take heart that the creator of all things chooses the stone rejected by the status quo as the cornerstone for a new world unfolding. Jesus is our cornerstone, the Way of Jesus our foundation, our plumbline, our leveler. At least that is what we are striving for.
And as we consider the larger world and the ways that leaders abuse their position as stewards and caretakers of community, we have hope that God will continue to raise up new generations of stewards to do the work of Kin-dom cultivation when we or others fail. Our text today—messy and confusing as it is—has something to say to all of us.
As we kick off this new series and step into our Fearless Generosity: For Such a Time As This campaign, the message clearly resonates: Foundry, we are called to be good stewards of God’s Kin-dom vision in a time of mess, injustice, violence, and confusion—in our denomination, nation, and world. We are called to receive and heed the words of the servants and prophets of God—in scripture and in science and in synagogue and sanctuary and scholarship and the voices of those crying out for help and for justice and in all the places that God’s wisdom and way are revealed to us. We are called to be humble enough to recognize the extraordinary privilege and gift it is to be part of this congregation and to continue to be a prophetic witness, to practice sacred resistance, to welcome all people in the beauty and wholeness of who they are, and to do the hard work of putting our words and faith into concrete action for racial equity and justice, and for a vision for DC that provides support for all its residents.
Over the past seven months, it has been clear as ever how important our presence, mission, and witness are—for people both near and far. As you saw in the video we shared earlier, Foundry has been a beacon of hope, a source of spiritual strength and moral guidance, an anchor providing stability, and a conduit for concrete action to support vulnerable and hurting neighbors. There was a moment a couple of months ago when it became very clear to me and to Foundry’s leadership that this is not a moment when Foundry needs to retreat, hunker down, shrink our vision or our work. In this moment when there is so much uncertainty and so much injustice and suffering, God needs us to “Foundry” more than ever—to be more of who we are called to be, not less, to do more of what we do, not less, to reach more people with the radical hospitality and saving love of God, not fewer, and to put more on the line for the sake of justice and peace, not less. Look at where we are as a people. In this crucible moment there is at least a sliver of a possibility that there could be a shift in our land that might bring some of God’s Kin-dom vision to fruition on earth as in heaven. If this is not the time for us to be bold and courageous and sacrificial, then…when?
It will be a new kind of faith community we eventually move into next year—both an in-person community and a robust digital experience and community, a more concretely anti-racist community, with deepened understanding and practice of full inclusion, and new and creative ways to manage the burgeoning hunger for small group connection, rigorous study, meaningful connection with our sister congregations, and so much more. And all of that will prepare and strengthen us to march into whatever comes next. When the world is on a razor’s edge of destructive chaos or new creation—that is the time to rise up, come together as a people, and participate in the new thing, the Kin-dom thing, that is possible. If not now…when? Foundry, we are called for such a time as this.
Interfaith Conversation of Forgiveness moderated by David Gregory
Faith Leaders Hold DC Vigil to Call For Change
"I don’t recognize my church." That’s what I said to myself while serving as a delegate of the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon.
In her new book, “Sacred Resistance,” the senior pastor of Foundry UMC in Washington, D.C., articulates how Christians can engage in the work of mending the world.
The language of “resistance” has a long history. For many it will call to mind those who’ve marched, stood on picket lines, participated in sit-ins, and put their bodies between trucks, tanks, and other people or cherished land. Used as a political term, resistance is generally understood as a kind of collective civil disobedience, focused on justice and human rights, and embodied in public actions like those just mentioned.
Growing up in a small town, Ginger Gaines-Cirelli ’96 M.Div. saw the wounds caused by poverty and segregation. Growing up United Methodist, she saw the urgency of connecting personal piety and social action.
When so many causes, crises, and critical needs demand our attention, how can a congregation decide where to engage? Pastor and author Ginger Gaines-Cirelli outlines key questions and concerns in discerning a faithful and sustainable response to public issues.
While it is still dark, Easter happens. Because if the message is that Easter only happens in the light, when we feel strong and certain, when suffering and death hasn’t touched our lives, when the powers of empire have been defeated and justice is consistently done — if that’s the only context where Easter happens, then our celebration of Easter would be a farce.
“It’s poor religion that can’t provide a sufficient curse when needed.” Wendell Berry said that.
Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, author of Sacred Resistance, says it’s up to preachers to address the pain, injustice, confusion, and chaos in our days even when it is risky, and she offers guidance on approaching controversial issues in meaningful and responsible ways.
Nearly ten years ago at a dinner in New York City, I was stunned when someone at my table declared clearly that there is really no point in dialogue or relationship with those whose beliefs will not be conformed to your own.
"I’m not sure how I feel about living in this city,” said a theologically trained young adult with a passion for social justice. As a relative newcomer to Washington, DC, he shared, “It seems that Washington attracts folks who care a lot about power and what it takes to get it.”
Beth Bingham began to see Hagar of the Old Testament in a new way after studying The CEB Women’s Bible.
Suddenly she wasn’t just the servant who bore Abraham a child when his wife Sarah couldn’t. She was, essentially, the Bible’s first single mom — one who had to leave the house because tensions were so high.
Bingham, a student at Virginia Theological Seminary, couldn’t wait to bring The CEB (Common English Bible) Women’s Bible and share her Hagar insight with the female inmates she studies Scripture with twice a month.
“Why should I add another Bible to my shelf?” This good-natured question has emerged often these past months as folks have learned that I served as an editor for the new CEB Women’s Bible.
It’s clear almost instantly that Abingdon Press’s newest Bible isn’t the kind of Christian women’s fare that focuses heavily on Proverbs 31 and lightly on indignities around gender.
The CEB Women’s Bible is a specialty edition of the Common English Bible, sold and distributed by Abingdon Press, part of United Methodist Publishing House. As a contributing editor, Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli shares, “I think the vast, inclusive number of women’s voices that we have represented in the writings is beautiful and wonderful.” All five editors are women, as are all 80 of the commentary contributors. The team includes mainly seminary professors and pastors, but also Christian novelists and a rabbi.